Improving Student Learning and Achievement

Special Education Programs and Servi​ces

York Region District School Board has a strong tradition of fostering an inclusive, innovative and engagement-oriented community. York Region District School Board also recognizes the importance of setting high expectations and closing the gap for students with special education needs. 

To achieve the Board of Trustees’ Multi-Year Strategic Plan priorities, the Director’s Action Plan sets out six goals that align with the strategic plan and the Board’s Mission, Vision and Values. In alignment with the concepts in the Ministry of Education’s Learning for All, the Director’s Action Plan goals focus on raising the achievement of students who are underserved and underperforming. When we focus on raising the achievement and well-being of students who are underserved and underperforming, all students benefit. 

At York Region District School Board, Student Services is responsible for collaborating with all stakeholders to ensure successful facilitation and implementation of:

  • a continuum of service delivery models responsive to pupil strengths and needs;
  • skilled resource staff who work in an interdisciplinary approach that supports the development of quality programs for exceptional pupils;
  • a tiered approach to prevention and intervention;
  • high-quality evidence-based assessment and personalized instruction;
  • intentional planning, instruction and differentiation; and,
  • inclusive and collaborative environments where all staff, students, parents and community members are engaged as partners.


2021-2022 School Year

In the 2021-2022 school year, Student Services focused on building capacity and creating a collective responsibility through:

  • Policy Updates
  • Programs and Pilot Projects
  • Professional Learning Opportunities
  • Collaborative Partnerships
  • Regulated Healthcare Professionals - Support & Training
  • Development of Resources


Policy Updates


Programs and Pilot Projects

  • Established a Student Support Centre (SSC) Strategy with system learning on inclusive practices with system leaders, administrators, and educators to support their understanding of the disparate impacts of the SSC Structure. Initiated interrogation of ideal placement to meet the learning needs of all students to support high expectations and keep pathways open. 
  • Supporting Students with Disabilities Transition Strategy pilot Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 12 to support students with disabilities to transition into, between and out of school and beyond.
  • Provided a virtual After School Skills Development Program for approximately 90 students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with a focus on personalized social skill goal setting and skill building in collaboration with families.
  • Provided virtual PEERs programs for youth with ASD. This included social skills training with a focus on student interest and preference to encourage lasting connections and friends.
  • Continued to train staff as Empower™ Reading Program instructors to deliver intensive support to struggling readers.
  • Continued ‘Hear, Say, Play!’, an evidence based after school (for children in Year 1 and Year 2 Kindergarten) and summer (for children entering SK and Grade 1) virtual program. Speech-language pathologists partnered with kindergarten educators to support the development of phonological awareness skills in fun, engaging and interactive ways. The program ran after school in the spring with 229 students and for four weeks in July with 282 students.
  • Partnered with Special Education Resource Teachers (SERTs), speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) and ran an after school intensive evidence based virtual program, ‘SKILL: Targeting Narrative Intervention’, to enhance narrative skill development for students in Grades 4-6 with previously detected needs in this area. A total of 36 students attended the program.
  • Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Services (PTOT)  Summer STEP (Students Transitioning Empowered and Prepared) group was offered virtually for students with a physical disability in Grades 7 or 8.  Current evidence-informed practice and transition models were used to inform the structure and curriculum of this group. This group acts as a virtual bridge and introduction to the Youth in Charge program that runs throughout the school year in partnership with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation(HBKR). The virtual group sessions focused on: building self-advocacy skills, preparing for social and academic transitions, building skills in self-care, organization, time management; and linking with peer mentors. 
  • A new full credit summer school course-Leadership and Peer Support GPP301: Knowing Your Strengths to Design Your Future (designed for students with disabilities/ who self-identify with a disability). This course ran in partnership with post-secondary and community disability agencies (York University, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital(HBKR)). Experiential learning opportunities and guest seminars were designed to create a dynamic and innovative way of developing leadership and peer support skills.  Throughout this course, students explored their own strengths, needs, advocacy skills and elements that contribute to disability positive identity formation and affirmation.  Students further developed an understanding of characteristics of effective leadership, personal management and effective group dynamics honouring diversity and inclusivity.  This course prepared students to act in leadership and peer support roles within their secondary, post secondary, community and disability communities. 
  • Initiated a pilot project that seeks to develop a comprehensive YRDSB Transition Strategy that will center the needs and experiences of students with disabilities.  It will seek to design, develop and implement a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of students with disabilities and their families/caregiver from pre-Kindergarten entry through to Grade 12 and into post-secondary.
  • Continued a High School ASL Transition Pilot Program for students using American Sign Language (ASL) as a first language at Alexander Mackenzie High School. 
  • In addition to the use of Remote Microphones, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services has been piloting Special Equipment Amount (SEA) Technology for access note-taking, both in English and French Immersion.
  • SEA and Robotics Pilot Program initiated to explore the use of robotics to access the Ontario Curriculum and/or alternative expectations as part of Special Education programming. 
  • May 2022 marked the launch of a pilot Student Advisory from Grades 9 -12 in collaboration with York Region Public Health. The purpose of Youth S.P.A.C.E. is to co-create a network of care, centering on the voice and leadership of YRDSB students to help shape mental health supports and initiatives within York Region District School Board and the broader community.  Eleven Grade 9-12 students from across the board participated in the Pilot Advisory. Students were representative of a variety of lived experiences and identities including, but not limited to, 2SLGBTQ+, Muslim, Black, South Asian, East Asian community as well as students who self-identify as neuro divergent,  having an IEP or differently abled, as well as from the YRDSB ACCESS program.


  • Collectively promoting a sense of positive identity, purpose, agency, community, belonging and alignment with board strategies, ABCs (Acknowledge, Bridge & Connection) of Mental Health and the DAP. 
  • Establishing (or building upon) Student Wellbeing/Mental Health leadership teams at each YRDSB school.
  • Youth S.P.A.C.E. Advisory will produce a “ Student Leadership Handbook.”


Professional Learning Opportunities

Special Education Training

In 2021-2022, YRDSB:

  • Continued to provide virtual Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) training to all new SERTs in elementary and secondary schools, as well as virtual Individual Education Plan (IEP) and SSNET drop-in sessions for all SERTs/teachers.
  • Led professional learning opportunities for hybrid learning.

There were 67 learning opportunities offered to educators. These included live webinars, recorded webinars, flipped model learning and drop-in sessions. Professional learning sessions were differentiated to meet the needs of educators. 

In addition, the professional learning website was updated with recorded webinars to support on-demand learning. Student Services created a curated list on an internal website that links to on-demand professional learning for system educators. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services continued to provide in-service and training to develop visual tools and systems to provide greater visual access for blended model learners. 

Assistive Technology

In 2021-2022, YRDSB:

  • Provided online sessions to support elementary and secondary Educational Assistants and teachers with the use of Google Read&Write, EquatIO, Clicker, OrbitNote and Boardmaker
  • Supported hybrid learning through facilitating learning on Google Classroom, Google Meet, Zoom, Google Calendar, Google Forms and Google Keep
  • Provided learning on de-streaming and the use of assistive technology

There were 50 professional learning opportunities offered to teaching staff and 37 sessions offered to Educational Assistants on PA days. There were 31 low incidence software training sessions provided for educators and five high incidence software training sessions were offered in conjunction with our training vendor, LEARNStyle.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

YRDSB provided numerous opportunities to support the programming, planning and implementation of educational programs for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including virtual opportunities for self-directed learning as well as full-day/half-day/after school professional learning sessions.

Non-Violent Crisis Intervention Training with an ASD Focus

YRDSB trains staff in the Crisis Prevention Institute® CPI ® Nonviolent Crisis Intervention program to maintain safety for staff and students. During the 2021-22 school year, Crisis Intervention trainers provided 18 new certification sessions for staff and 43 one-day refresher training sessions.

Violence Intervention And Prevention Training

In collaboration with multiple departments, Students Services led the development of online training for all staff addressing violent incidents in classrooms and workplaces. This training, delivered in February for all school staff, introduced key concepts including behaviour as communication, collective roles and responsibilities, prevention and intervention, fostering and maintaining relationships and additional resources.

Mental Health Professional Development/Training

Mental Health staff, in collaboration with Student Services (Psychology and Social Work), as well as Inclusive Schools and Community Services (ISCS),  Indigenous Education, Healthy Schools and Caring and Safe Schools staff co-developed the ABC's of Mental Health (Acknowledge, Bridge, and Connect). 

This work is predicated on the work of many transformative thinkers regarding the intersectionality of child and youth mental health and an anti-oppressive stance to mental health and well-being. The ABCs of Mental Health was part of the board wide September PA day learning. In addition to the learning for staff, a lesson series was developed for students. The ABC's of Mental Health Lessons (Kindergarten to Grade 12+) are part of a series of ongoing professional learning opportunities for educators that support student mental health and well-being at YRDSB. These 30 minute lessons focus on building mental health awareness and skill development in the areas of Acknowledge, Bridge and Connect. The overall intent is to support staff in knowing their learners and building emotional connection within the first few weeks of school. Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, learning for educators and staff developed and expanded the intersection of mental health and anti-oppressive practices through the ABC's of Mental Health Framework.

Extending the ABCs of Mental Health At Home saw the introduction of a number of virtual gatherings for parents and caregivers to learn how to support the ABCs at Home. A number of sessions were provided with support of identity specific and linguistically relevant community partners. Over 490 families attended sessions held at School Council Forums, and or sessions held in Tamil, Cantonese, or Mandarin. 

April 2022 - June 2022 Targeted learning for school administrators which included:

  • Session 1: “Identifying the Relationship between Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy, Anti-Oppressive Practices, and Anti-Racism as they Connect to Mental Health”
  • Session 2:  “Counteracting Oppressive Ideologies Through the ABCs of Mental Health and Identity Affirming Approaches”

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) 2021-2022

With the consultation of YRDSB Health and Safety staff, 13 two day ASIST sessions were scheduled. Ten sessions were successfully delivered, while 3 were canceled due to public health concerns.  A total of 141 YRDSB staff participated in the training.


Collaborative Partnerships

  • Developed and formalized a new CRES (Collaborative Relationships with External Services) Partnership agreement with:
    • Hope House Hospice: Offering Grief and Bereavement Counseling from Grade 2 - 12. 
  • Continued to collaborate with the New Teacher’s Induction Program (NTIP) consultants in supporting sessions for new teachers of students with special education needs.
  • Partnered with Inclusive Schools and Community Services and Curriculum and Instructional Services to provide a variety of summer school opportunities such as:
    • Grade 6, 7 & 8 Literacy and Numeracy reinforcement program for students who have an IEP.
  • Partnered with Early Intervention Services (EIS) to foster a strong working relationship to support the successful entry of children into Year 1 and Year 2 Kindergarten including an online Early Intervention Orientation Evening session.
  • Initiated collaborative work between Early Years, Speech-Language Pathology Services (SLP) and Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Services (PTOT) on the revisioning of the Transition to Kindergarten process. 
  • Engaged in a formal partnership with Children’s Treatment Network (CTN) to provide Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology, Communication Disorders Assistant and Coordinated Service Planning services to children/youth and their families to address their home and community rehabilitation, service coordination and alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) needs.
  • Collaborated with Kinark Child and Family Services to support the transition of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder from Intensive Behavioural Intervention into school through the Connections for Students program.
  • Collaborated with Children’s Treatment Network (CTN) to coordinate services supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, engaged with the Entry to School Program and Urgent Response Services.
  • Collaborated with Kerry’s Place and Mackenzie Health to support students with Autism Spectrum Disorder through Applied Behaviour Analysis Services.
  • Maintained membership within the York Region ASD Partnership, working collaboratively with agency partners and community members to align services for children with ASD in York Region.
  • Collaborated with Accessibility Services at York University to prepare and provide the Summer Transition Group. 
  • Collaborated with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation and Children’s Treatment Network to deliver and evaluate the Youth in Charge (YiC) program.
  • Student Services continued work with the De-streaming Coordination Team and De-Streaming Advisory Council.
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services continued partnerships with community agencies to support preschool students with hearing loss (ages 2-4).
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services continued to engage in partnerships with outside agencies (including Provincial Demonstration Schools) to provide access to American Sign Language and Deaf Culture with Deaf adult role models. 


Regulated Healthcare Professionals - Support & Training

  • Speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) offered several virtual Parent Articulation Workshops across the school year. These sessions focused on training families of students with mild articulation difficulties to work on speech at home. A total of 52 families attended.
  • S-LPs led training sessions for educators to enhance knowledge of strategies to support phonological awareness skills with students through the delivery of the Hear, Say, Play! summer program. Play-based activities for families to extend the learning at home were also shared.
  • S-LPs led training sessions for Special Education Resource Teachers who co-taught the SKILL Narrative program focusing on supporting narrative skill development for students with detected language needs.  
  • S-LPs engaged in continued collaboration with kindergarten educators to enhance oral language, play, and phonological awareness skills for students entering JK through the in-person Building Blocks for Kindergarten program.
  • S-LPs continued to deliver classroom based support to augment oral language through facilitated socio-dramatic play and phonological awareness through read-alouds and extension activities for students in Year 1 and Year 2 Kindergarten programs.
  • S-LP led literacy focused presentations for Parent Education Advisory Committee and the Early Years Learning Together Parent and Child conference. 
  • Provided PT/OT workshops in the areas of self-regulation, sensory processing, fine and gross motor development.
  • The Ignite Technology Grant for the 2021-2022 school year included:
    • Six graduation recipients, who demonstrated leadership with regards to the use of Special Equipment Amount throughout their school careers, were awarded $1,000 each to support the purchase of technology for their post-secondary pursuits. 
    • Three school grants of $500 were given to Bayview Hill ES, David Suzuki PS and Morning Glory PS for promoting the positive use of Assistive Technology in schools. 
  • Anti-Oppressive Assessment Practices continued professional development for Psychology Staff (March- May 2022)
  • Psychological Services staff provided workshops for parents/guardians on multiple topics: Coping with Covid, Anxiety, Managing Transitions in the Return to School.
  • Psychological Services presentation to PEAC and EIAC on Supporting Children’s Mental Health in a Post-Pandemic Landscape 
  • Psychological Services staff completed 111 contracted psychological assessments during the summer to support continuity of learning and care. 
  • Psychological Services and Social Work Staff worked with ISCS on a Focus on Youth (FOY) initiative to support in-risk secondary school students (Grades 10-12) considering which characteristics these students may share (e.g. low socio-econoic status, Black, Indigenous, other racialized students). The intention of the Focus on Youth program was to hire, serve, and support students in-risk situations who face personal challenges that hinder their academic achievement, and face disadvantages and barriers to employment due to circumstances directly linked to systemic inequality, racism and discrimination, and lived experiences of socio-economic disadvantage (i.e., personal/familial involvement in the criminal justice system, poverty and/or homelessness, violence and lack of safety at home/school/community, and lack of access to community services and supports). 
  • School Social Workers and Psychological Services participated in joint professional learning sessions
    • Grief and Loss: Fundamental Discussions about Different Cultural Expressions of Grief and Practical Approaches to Support 
    • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy: An Introduction to Essential Components
    • Emotion Focused Skills Training in Schools (EFST-S): Introduction and Experiential Workshop
  • School Social Workers participated in Moving Forward Together - Creating Anti-Colonial, Anti-Racist, and Anti-Oppressive Environments in Education aimed at supporting staff in developing a deeper critical understanding of the ongoing impact of colonialism, racism, and oppression.
  • School Social Work and Psychological Services participated in creative interventions to assess and treat school refusal with SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health Learning Institute.
  • School Social Workers participated in the 34th annual School Social Work Symposium,  Decolonizing Education: Engage, Dismantle & Change
  • School Social Workers participated in LIVE WEBINAR: Identity Formation in Black Youth: A Clinical Lens.
  • School Social Workers provided the following sessions for Chinese heritage parents/guardians: Effective Communication with Teenagers; Case Scenarios: Managing Challenging Behaviours; Empowering Families to have conversations at home to address stereotypes related to our identities; Helping Children Transitioning to a new environment; Mental Health 101; Family Dynamics & Mental Health. 
  • School Social Workers held East Asian Youths Speak Program: Empowering YRDSB secondary students to construct a self-narrative that is inclusive of their multiple identities 

A variety of mental health groups co-facilitated by Psychological Services and Social Work included:

  • PRYZM Connections: A group for racialized 2SLGTBQ+ youth of YRDSB
  • A group for Black self-identified YRDSB students
  • Bouncing Back: Strategies for Strengthening Resilience. Each session focused on one evidence-based area of focus in the field of resilience and explored skills and strategies to implement at home and school. Topics include: mindfulness and gratitude, self care, relaxation and breathing, cognitive restructuring, communication and problem solving and the role of optimism. Facilitated for select Grade 6, 7, 8 students at  Ventura Park, Wilshire PS, Charlton PS, Henderson Ave, German Mills PS, Bayview Glen, Brownridge, Rosedale. 
  • Girl's Circle, "An evidence based arts group focused on building and supporting self-esteem, resilience, strengthening friendships/relationships and reducing bullying." for select Grade 6 girls at Baythorn PS.  
  • Take Action Anxiety Group, with select Grade 3-5 students, held virtually.
  • Together Not Alone, a virtual group to support student anxiety for YRDSB self-identified Farsi speaking youth aged 12-16 years old
  • 4th R Healthy Relationships Plus Program was facilitated in the 2021-2022 school year in nine elementary schools, nine secondary schools and two ACCESS secondary locations by the 19 school social workers trained to facilitate the program. The program spanned 14 weeks providing weekly classroom based psychoeducation on topics pertaining to impact of substance use and abuse, taking responsibility for emotions, boundaries and assertive communication, influences of relationships shaping our views and mental health and well-being. 
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) informed skills training, providing three sessions on each of the four modules, distress tolerance, walking the middle path, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness with mindfulness practice with grade 7/8 female identifying students.  
  • Healthy Relationships, six-week group on healthy relationships, conflict resolution, communication styles, mattering/belonging with select Grade 5 students, in-person at Romeo Dallaire PS.
  • Presentation on Black Excellence and Mental Health and Well-Being - March 2022 virtual offering for parents of YRDSB students, and two offerings in February for students in elementary and secondary school.
  • Presentation for students on Racial Harassment and Bullying with TAIBU at 3 schools serving approximately 1000 students 
  • Presentation on Racial Harassment and Bullying at Fred Varley PS in December 2021, and Tommy Douglass SS and Milliken Mills SS students in the Come Up program, in July 2022  
  • UBUNTU – (classroom cooperation, support and wellness) at Julliard PS for 25 Intermediate students in January 2022 
  • Healthy Relationships workshop with TAIBU.  Facilitated for Black students and RISE Brothers students - two sessions facilitated for students of Middlefield CI grades 9-12 serving 48 students in June of 2022
  • Staff presentation on UBUNTU, Anti-Black Racism and Supporting Students facilitated for Juilliard PS and Park Ave PS staff 
  • Presentation on 2SLGBTQI+ identity, supports, and resources at Pleasantville PS for GSA students 
  • Staff presentations on supporting 2SLGTBQI+ students for at German Mills PS, Robert Munsch PS, Jersey PS, Sutton District HS 
  • PEAC symposium presentation on supporting 2SLGTBQI+ students May 2022
  • 2SLGBTQI+ 101: Understanding Identities and Challenging Assumptions for School Social Workers, Psychological Services and CRES partners March 2022 
  • Trustee presentation on YRDSB Guidelines for Gender Identity and Expression, March 2022
  • Supporting Student Stress and Anxiety group for Grades 10 and 11 students targeting stress and anxiety with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Anxiety group for students to learn about anxiety and new effective coping strategies by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. 
  • A peer support group for students going into Grades 10-12 to talk about and work through experiences of anxiety and develop/expand on interpersonal skills and helpful coping
  • A peer support group for students aged 12 and up to talk about and work through experiences of anxiety and develop/expand on interpersonal skills and coping 
  • A group for Grade 7 and 8 students focused on learning about stress and anxiety and effective coping strategies using a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach Group to support students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Strategies included in TAKE A.C.T.IO.N.  are – Awareness of signs of anxiety, C keep Calm, Think strong thoughts (action-oriented thoughts), get Into action (learn to approach anxiety-provoking situations), use my Options (coping strategies), and Never stop taking action. 
  • Psychological Services engaged in professional development on Anti-Oppressive Assessment Practices. This professional development was focussed on anti-oppressive assessment, interpretation and applicable professional practice considerations.


Development of Resources

  • Revisioned Special Education Plan to align with the Ministry Standards and Requirement outlined in Special Education in Ontario (2017)
  • Revisioned Special Education pages on the public website
  • Learning and Caring Plan Resources
  • Updated a Family’s Guide to Special Equipment Amount (SEA) 
  • Student Services collaborated with Curriculum and Instructional Services to provide suggestions for accessible and appropriate reading materials for the YRDSB Online digital library. 
  • In collaboration with Corporate Communications, Plant Services and schools, Student Services supported the creation of National Accessibility Week videos
  • Development of the Student Mental Health and Addiction Strategy with the support of an interdepartmental committee.The draft is informed by over 36 separate internal and community consultations with various partners. Consultation was intentionally sought prior to the draft development. The preliminary draft was reviewed with various groups within YRDSB, and the greater community over the months of May and June 2022. The Strategy, which includes a monitoring framework, was launched in September 2022 with a comprehensive communication plan and tools, including a classroom learning action  for Grades K-12+.


Updated December 2022